By Stan Meissner
You can’t be prepared for the future without understanding the past. With this in mind, consider the importance of Canadian content (CanCon) on our airwaves, and how it has affected our industry. I’m old enough to recall a time when the bulk of Canadian recordings on radio were merely covers of American or British songs. Local artists had to leave home to seek their fame and fortune and our airwaves were basically a mirror of the U.S., only worse.
With the establishment of the Canadian Radio-television Commission (CRTC) in 1968 (which became the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission in 1976), and the following broadcasting act, a few important things were declared regarding content and foreign ownership. The act states that broadcasters “shall make maximum use, and in no case less than predominant use, of Canadian creative and other resources.” This was actualized with the adoption of the MAPL system in 1971, defining the framework for CanCon, which then demanded a minimum of 25% Canadian content on radio, escalating to as much as 35% by 1999.
The results were nothing short of staggering. Canadian artists and bands started to gain great success through the ‘70s. By the ‘80s, things had exploded and Canada developed an incredibly vibrant music industry. It supported an infrastructure reaching far beyond bands and artists to include every major label (back then there were many), countless successful independent labels, producers, managers, recording studios, industry organizations, video production companies, etc., all of whom could rival operations anywhere in the world.
This built a foundation that acted as a springboard for hundreds of Canadian acts that have been able to achieve massive international success.
Likewise, with CanCon requirements for television, Canada has been able to build a TV production industry that has nurtured incredible talent. Mychael Danna’s recent Oscar and Emmy wins are a testament not only to his talent, but also to the foundation that Canada’s broadcasting regulation system has been able to offer.
Looking forward, as we face the likes of Spotify, Pandora, iTunes Radio as well as audio-visual services like Netflix, etc., can we ensure that some measure of Canadian content will be available? This may prove to be a challenge, but one that needs to be wrestled with. One example of a different type of model is Sirius/XM satellite radio. They must provide a certain number of Canadian channels as a condition of license in Canada. While not the CanCon percentages that we’re used to, the advantage is that these Canadian channels are available throughout the entire network, providing exposure to the U.S.
The future may look different, but we are going to have to get creative as we build upon what history has taught us about the value of CanCon to our musical economy.
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